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The icons of San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the most iconic cities in the USA, but what does it have to offer visitors, apart from a rather pretty red bridge?

This infamous city will keep visitors entertained within the hilly city limits, but there are some iconic sights just a stone’s throw from the metropolis too.

So if you want to see all of the icons in and around San Francisco on your next visit, here’s what to add to your list:

Cable Car

Probably one of the most fun methods of public transport in the world, these historic cable cars will take you up hills so steep it’s hard to walk them. For the best view, sit on the sides of the car facing outwards – but hold onto your belongings!

Painted Ladies

Painted Ladies is a general term for brightly painted Victorian style houses in America, but the Painted Ladies can be found lining one edge of San Francisco’s Alamo Square. This particularly pretty row of houses has been featured in over 70 movies and TV shows, including Full House.

Coit Tower

Perched atop Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower stands an extra 210 feet above the land it rests on and offers visitors a beautiful panoramic view of San Francisco from the top. Inside the tower are a number of colourful murals that depict life in the city back in the 1930s.

Lombard Street

Hop off the cable car at Lombard Street and marvel at the eight hairpin turns that wind their way up one very steep block. The sharp bends and turns are decorated with leafy flowers and shrubs, so it’s no wonder it’s one of the most photographed icons in the city.

Pier 39

On a sunny afternoon in San Francisco, the place to be is buzzy Pier 39 where you’ll find sea lions sunbathing and tourists eating clam chowder from a sourdough bread bowl or slurping ice cream. Join in the fun while you look around the shops and art galleries on this lively pier.


It’s the largest of its kind outside of Asia, and the oldest Chinatown in North America, but there are plenty more reasons why this area of San Francisco should be on your itinerary. You could spend a whole day browsing for trinkets, sipping exotic tea and indulging in delicious Chinese food, all the while getting a workout on the undulating streets of San Francisco.

Golden Gate Bridge

This icon needs no introduction as it’s probably the most recognisable sight on this list, and it’s visible from most areas of the city. For a close up view, head to Fort Point, and whether you drive or cycle, make sure you head across this beautiful bridge at least once.


Made famous by the film ‘Escape from Alcatraz’, this former prison now offers self-guided audio tours several times a day. Skip across the water by boat and spend a few hours exploring the cells and yards of the prison with the million dollar view.


If you’re making the trip over the Golden Gate Bridge, be sure to stop for coffee in the picturesque harbour community of Sausalito. The pace is noticeably slower than the city just across the bridge, which makes it the ideal getaway for a quiet lunch or dinner.

Napa and Sonoma

Just an hour from San Francisco are the famous wine regions of Sonoma and Napa Valley. Sample some of the local Zinfandel, spend time tasting artisan produce or browse through the art and antique stores in the region's towns.


Another icon that’s outside the city, Yosemite National Park is a little too far for a day trip, but San Francisco is a good base for exploring this area of natural beauty. Get into the great outdoors with hiking, mountain climbing, cycling and even fishing, all surrounded by breathtaking mountain views.

Inspired? Take a look at our range of iconic USA holidays!

Written by Elle Croft

When Elle is not travelling, she's blogging about it over at A Bird in the Hand Travel. She believes that you don't have to look like a backpacker to travel, and writes about the stylish side of wanderlust, from stylish destinations to packing tips.

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